Uptown Café: Hitting a high note

On Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington, just steps away from the courthouse square, you will find the Uptown Café. A classic eatery, the Uptown has an old-time flair that evokes Edwin Hopper’s famous painting, with café style chairs and square tables, and old tin panels adorning the ceiling. This is Jamie Feldman‘s favorite restaurant, and it is easy to see why.

We sat in the newly renovated bar space, which boasts an exposed brick wall that shows off the old bones of one of the older buildings still standing in this town, juxtaposed with a gleaming new bar of mahogany and cherry wood, and Sky Sports broadcasting on the new flatscreen televisions.[1]

As a Creole-inspired restaurant, the Uptown invites a diner to a steaming bowl of étouffée or the daily gumbo special,[2] which one could eat while gazing around the room at the paintings of jazz musicians and lounge singers, thus catching just a glimpse of life in the Big Easy. It is not surprising that jazz is normally played in the evenings here, but for lunch we enjoyed instead the melodious tones of the incomparable Rev. Al Green.

In this swanky setting toned down by humble Southern charm, we sat down to try Uptown’s one and only burger offering, the “New Yorker.”

Neil :

Uptown Café makes a winner: a burger that brought a smile to my face.  Mine was a really good, classic burger with cheddar cheese.[3]  Uptown calls it the “New Yorker.”  I don’t know why.  There are plenty of good burgers in New York,[4] but it’s not a food that’s unique to New York, not by any stretch.  If someone said, “Make a list of New York foods,” I don’t even think burgers would make my list.  Yet this is not important.  What is important is that Chris and I had a really good burger at Uptown Café.

This photo doesn’t do the burger justice.

I knew it was going to be good as soon as it hit the table.  The burger arrived open faced, with the patty on one half of the bun and the toppings on the other.  The patty had those beautiful grill marks and the white cheddar was perfectly melted.[5]  I asked for my burger to be cooked medium and it was spot on.  Also, and very importantly, the patty was nicely seasoned.  I always like to tear off a bit of the beef to taste on its own and this was top notch.  The flavor of beef was excellent and the char flavor from the grill also came through.  Exactly what I was looking for.  There were a lot of flavors competing for attention on the burger (the beef, toppings, mayo and ketchup), but I could still taste the cheddar.  That’s important to me, because what’s the point of a cheeseburger if the cheese gets drowned out?  If I had one critique of the patty, it would be its thickness.  It wasn’t a small patty, and it certainly wasn’t dry, but it also wasn’t that thick, really juicy patty you might expect from a restaurant like Uptown.

The toppings on the burger were lettuce, tomato, onion, two long pickle slices and mayonnaise.  I find it curious that mayo is standard on this burger (it says so on the menu, so I wasn’t surprised).  I like mayo, but I can’t think of a burger I’ve had that automatically came with mayo and no other condiments.  The lettuce was a bit brown around the edges, and the tomato wasn’t great, though it is probably the best tomato I’ve had on a burger since we’ve begun the blog.[6]  The red onion slice was really nice and added a bit of crunch that I love.  Red onions can often be overpowering, but this slice was just right.

The highlight of the toppings, though, were the two pickle slices.  Crunchy, briny, delicious.  I have come to realize that pickles are an undervalued topping.  They can add so much from both a taste and texture perspective, but they are often little more than a throwaway on the side.  That’s why I was disappointed that Village Deli served their burgers with the pickles skewered on top of the bun.  That just encourages people to remove the skewers and eat the pickles immediately.  PUT THE PICKLES ON THE BURGERS!  Okay, that’s out of my system.

Uptown Café offers a wide range of sides: Cajun steakhouse fries, mashed potatoes, basmati rice, steamed vegetables, mac & cheese, or “Michael’s home fries” (served only until 2 p.m.).

I usually go for fries, so I decided to mix it up and go for one of my absolute favorite dishes: macaroni and cheese.  The mac & cheese at Uptown was good, but not great.  It was creamy, rich and the macaroni was cooked just right.  However, it was one note.  I think it would have been better if they used two or three different kinds of cheeses.  A sharp, distinctive cheese would have complemented the creaminess nicely.

It probably sounds like there was little wrong with this burger besides the iffy lettuce and tomato, and that is true.  It was very good and probably surpassed my expectations.  However, while this burger was very good, it wasn’t exceptional.  That’s a big leap to make and Uptown hasn’t quite made it there yet.

Chris :

Uptown hit the mark when providing a well seasoned patty, properly cooked, on a solid bun. Yet the toppings were disappointing to me, especially for a burger that hits the $10.00 mark.

To me, a $10.00 burger reaches a symbolic milestone, similar to running a three hour marathon,[7] getting 3,000+ hits in the major leagues, or winning three NBA championships. That number puts you in a different echelon, and with that status comes greater expectations of what should come next. So despite offering what is clearly one of the better burgers in town, Uptown could not quite reach the highest tier in our ratings. That is just the way it is.[8]

As for the condiments and toppings, they left something to be desired at any price. The lettuce was browned on the edges, and wilting even on the outskirts where the heat of the patty should not have been a factor. Where the heat from the patty was a factor, the lettuce was turning mushy. Like Neil, I keep waiting for a good tomato.

Begin the tomato rant: Why is finding a good tomato becoming our Atlantis of burger toppings? Are they only to be found in the mythical Shangri-la? We keep searching for a quality tomato, which is strange as Bloomington has not had a hard frost yet (as of the time of our eating), had an August that felt as if the town were built on the surface of the sun (hot weather = good tomato growing), and had a mild September. There are no shortage of greenhouses within the county, and with so many restaurants trumpeting their farm-to-table credentials, perhaps a local hothouse tomato is not too much to ask.[9]
Wanting something a little different, I opted for a burger with the Swiss cheese. The amount of Swiss initially left me wanting more, the patty wasn’t covered with the cheese, and regardless of the country the cheese is named for, this is America and I normally want a blanket of cheese on my burger. Fortunately what the cheese lacked in volume it made up for in substance. Creamy, with the perfect sour bite of Swiss flavor, it offset the patty well.

Speak of patties, Neil is dead on in his description. The grill marks were perfect and beautiful. Given that the bartender asked me what temperature I would like my patty, I was thrilled that my patty was cooked to a perfect “medium” with a warm, slightly pink center.

My cajun fries were a disappointment. Like Neil’s mac & cheese, the basics were solid. While I prefer shoestring fries to the steak fries I found on my plate, they were well cooked for what they were. The seasoning, however, was off. Rather than tossing the fries in the seasoning, Uptown chose to sprinkle just a small amount of seasoning on top of the fries, making them somewhat bland despite their “cajun” moniker.

Conclusion :

In conclusion, we both liked “The New Yorker.”[10]  While eating, we kept comparing the burger to the one at Nick’s.  They are both high quality, grilled burgers, but Uptown’s was a little bigger and in Neil’s opinion better seasoned.  Though the burger at Uptown is a little more expensive than Nick’s ($10.00 vs. $9.49), we think Uptown’s burger earns the 51 extra cents.

Raw Score:                    4 / 5 burgers
Price-adjusted:              4 / 5 burgers

Price:                            $10 (+ $1 if you want gorgonzola cheese)
Gained points:               Excellent grilling, flavor, presentation
Lost points:                   Price, tomato and lettuce quality
Drinks:                          Neil: 3 Floyd’s Alpha King (American Pale Ale).  Chris: Ayinger Oktoberfest
Date of visit:                 10/9/12 (Leif Erikson Day)

[1] Uptown has long been known as one of the better soccer viewing spots in Bloomington. You can access a copy of their “football” viewing schedule here.

[2] Both dishes are superb, in our humble opinion.

[3] Swiss and gorgonzola are the other cheese options.  Gorgonzola will cost you another dollar.

[5] Cheddar is a great burger cheese, because its fat content helps it melt just right.

[6] We are still waiting for someone to serve us a great tomato slice.  It’s disappointing.

[7] Though Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, despite all his puffery on his athletic prowess, apparently finds such time distinctions so meaningless as to be forgettable. Or he is lying, something we would never do here on TheBBB.

[8] Though both of us agree that it came close to a 4.5 rating, it did not quite make that threshold. Yet this should in now way tarnish Uptown’s reputation for making a very good burger.

[9] If you are wondering if I just put Farm on notice, the answer is yeah, I did. We will see how they do in a later review. And thus endeth the tomato rant.

[10] We still want to know why it’s called that.


3 thoughts on “Uptown Café: Hitting a high note

    • Honeybooboo –
      Thanks for stopping by the site, we’re desperate for “celebrity” recognition. In fact yes, those are all the fries you get.
      In closing, “you better Redneckognize” that there aren’t enough fries!

  1. Pingback: Scotty’s Brewhouse: Beam me up | The Bloomington Burger Boys

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